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Gold prospectors may be benefiting from the drought

By Michael Webster: Syndicated Investigative Reporter. Feb 13, 2014. 1:30 PM CST

Wayne Warren shakes wet dirt out of a plastic bucket and into a metal chute, tossing aside bigger rocks. For him, California's drought is golden.

Yes, golden. Warren is knee-deep in the San Gabriel River, an hour outside of Los Angeles. That chute next to him is a sluice box. The water washes away the dirt in a muddy cloud, and he leans over the box. Out of the creek, he taps his findings into a green, plastic gold pan and gives it a few swirls. What's left ...

After three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall, California faces its most severe drought emergency in decades. Governor Jerry Brown has called for Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent voluntarily, and mandatory rationing could be ordered soon so that homes, businesses and farms don’t run dry over the summer. Wildfire danger is unusually high.

According to “All things considered” writer Nathan Rott wrote that Consider this the golden lining of California's historic drought. The Golden State is getting some much needed rain lately. In many parts of the state, it's the first rain of the year. The drought is bad for most people, but for others, it's an opportunity. Curt Timmons, a gold prospector and the owner of the shop Little Digger Mining and Supply in nearby Baldwin Hills, CA has been walking the riverbanks of the San Gabriel River his whole life.

"Yeah, it's good for the gold prospectors. They love it because they can get down to that bedrock without using any scuba equipment," he says. "Normally it'd be about 6 feet over your head. And now it's so low, it'd probably be up to your knees in depth, if that."

Little rain and even less snowpack have made the San Gabriel River more of a stream. It's not just here, says Kevin Hoagland, executive director of development at the Gold Prospectors Association of America.

"It's beyond just the state of California," he says. "Where I'm at in Arizona, we haven't even had our first snow yet."

Hoagland, who lives in Prescott, Ariz., says that's opened up riverbeds there too.

"It's given people an opportunity to literally just go in with a gold pan and a shovel, and be able to get in some of these cracks and crevices and find gold that you wouldn't normally be able to recover."

Hoagland says it's not 1849 again: no need to pack the wagon and head West. But it is exciting for most people.

Gold Fever’s Russ Ford reports Crevicing is dear to his heart. I've found more gold here in AZ using this method than any other. The main reason for that is most people don't want to hike for miles, get down on their knees and get dirty, and work for it. Consequently, it's still there, and if you're willing to really get close to Mother Earth, she will reward you. If you're in an area where there isn't much exposed bedrock or heavy vegetation prevents crevicing, this may not work for you. But what the heck - it's winter - come on down to southern CA or AZ.

How can you tell a real "Crevicer"? He's the one whose Estwing rock hammer looks more like a ballpeen hammer. I've gone through several.

Let's talk about the basic tools first. I'm not mentioning the standard stuff (water, first aid kit, lunch, etc.)
*Large Estwing rock hammer. (Go for the best - it's worth it).
*3 prong garden fork (hand size)
*4 prong garden rake (with handle cut down)
*Garden trowel (hand size) *Plastic scoop ( 1 gal ) and plastic scoop (small - cut from soda pop bottle)
*Variety of crevice wires and spoons
*At least two sizes of brushes
*Classifiers and buckets (strap on the outside/back of your pack with bungies. I carry two, 5 gal, one w/ 3/4" holes in bottom, and 1/4" and 1/8" screen sleeves to fit in top.
*Pry bar - (size depending on weight - larger the better)
*Canvas sample bags (for carrying con to water for panning, and labeling area of find).
*Backpack (note: total weight of pack with basic tools should be about 25 lbs)
*Gold Pan, snuffer bottle, magnet, magnifying glass or loupe, and plastic straw (more about that later)
Advanced tools:
*Large pick or shovel
*Metal detector
*Dry Vac
*Standing screen / classifier
*Underwater suction tool
*Backpack dredge (Not in California)

Gold Panning Kits & Tools -

"Sure is pretty in the sun, huh?" he says.

, though not for Maury Roos, the chief hydrologist at California's Department of Water Resources.

"It's a bad thing for those who need water, and I imagine it's not the best thing either for the fish that live in the rivers," he says.

Roos says it's good that some people are benefiting, but overall, this drought is bad. Many of California's rivers are at or near record low water volumes. Even with rain, their outlook isn't good. Roos says that will affect fisheries, already endangered salmon, watersheds, and even trees and vegetation.

That's not to mention the people — the cities that are under mandatory water restrictions, or the farmers who let their land go fallow, or unplanted.

For a clearer picture, just go back to where our guys were looking for gold, on the San Gabriel River. Follow it south, to where it pools behind San Gabriel Dam and you'll see high water lines some hundred feet above the reservoir's surface. The three major dams in this canyon hold nearly 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools' worth of water. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, less than 1 percent is available for release. Otherwise the dams would go below their minimum levels.

That doesn't have quite the same golden glimmer.`